The House of the Seven Gables HTML version

17. The Flight of Two Owls
SUMMER as it was, the east wind set poor Hepzibah's few remaining teeth chattering in
her head, as she and Clifford faced it, on their way up Pyncheon Street, and towards the
centre of the town. Not merely was it the shiver which this pitiless blast brought to her
frame (although her feet and hands, especially, had never seemed so death-a-cold as
now), but there was a moral sensation, mingling itself with the physical chill, and causing
her to shake more in spirit than in body. The world's broad, bleak atmosphere was all so
comfortless! Such, indeed, is the impression which it makes on every new adventurer,
even if he plunge into it while the warmest tide of life is bubbling through his veins.
What, then, must it have been to Hepzibah and Clifford,--so time-stricken as they were,
yet so like children in their inexperience,--as they left the doorstep, and passed from
beneath the wide shelter of the Pyncheon Elm! They were wandering all abroad, on
precisely such a pilgrimage as a child often meditates, to the world's end, with perhaps a
sixpence and a biscuit in his pocket. In Hepzibah's mind, there was the wretched
consciousness of being adrift. She had lost the faculty of self-guidance; but, in view of
the difficulties around her, felt it hardly worth an effort to regain it, and was, moreover,
incapable of making one.
As they proceeded on their strange expedition, she now and then cast a look sidelong at
Clifford, and could not but observe that he was possessed and swayed by a powerful
excitement. It was this, indeed, that gave him the control which he had at once, and so
irresistibly, established over his movements. It not a little resembled the exhilaration of
wine. Or, it might more fancifully be compared to a joyous piece of music, played with
wild vivacity, but upon a disordered instrument. As the cracked jarring note might always
be heard, and as it jarred loudest amidst the loftiest exultation of the melody, so was there
a continual quake through Clifford, causing him most to quiver while he wore a
triumphant smile, and seemed almost under a necessity to skip in his gait.
They met few people abroad, even on passing from the retired neighborhood of the
House of the Seven Gables into what was ordinarily the more thronged and busier portion
of the town. Glistening sidewalks, with little pools of rain, here and there, along their
unequal surface; umbrellas displayed ostentatiously in the shop-windows, as if the life of
trade had concentrated itself in that one article; wet leaves of the, horse-chestnut or elm-
trees, torn off untimely by the blast and scattered along the public way; an unsightly,
accumulation of mud in the middle of the street, which perversely grew the more unclean
for its long and laborious washing,--these were the more definable points of a very
sombre picture. In the way of movement and human life, there was the hasty rattle of a
cab or coach, its driver protected by a waterproof cap over his head and shoulders; the
forlorn figure of an old man, who seemed to have crept out of some subterranean sewer,
and was stooping along the kennel, and poking the wet rubbish with a stick, in quest of
rusty nails; a merchant or two, at the door of the post-office, together with an editor and a
miscellaneous politician, awaiting a dilatory mail; a few visages of retired sea-captains at